What is psyche, or soul? It’s a question, of course, which sits at the very heart of psychology; it’s one I’ve been studying in one form or another since, at 17 years old (51 years ago) I decided I was going to become a psychologist, and set about applying for the first of several courses of study in the subject. Over the years I’ve explored psychology professionally and academically from many different perspectives (it’s a complex subject; it requires a good deal of study) but I always come back to depth psychology: the study of soul, and above all of the mythic imagination. And my own original work in the field of the mythic imagination is, as you’ve probably noticed, deeply rooted in the land. It’s all about bringing the imagination back down to earth – much more of which, another time.
So I’ve been thinking about the things which make us. About the different layers of psyche, and about the different ways we have of knowing the world. The different kinds of knowing and memory which each of us contains.
Look at it like this: we each have a physical way of knowing and understanding the world, through our body, and our senses. This body of mine, which I’ve slowly grown into through all these rich and long years of my life, contains my personal physical and sensory knowledge of the world. My own personal experience of it. Stored there somewhere, somehow, are my personal memories and experiences; my learnings and the wisdom I’ve accumulated from nearly six decades on this beautiful, challenging planet. That’s one way of knowing; one layer of the psyche. Personal experience: felt, sensed, integrated, stored.
But there’s a different way of knowing which each of us carries within our own body – because each of our bodies is constructed of matter. And the atoms which make up that physical matter of which we’re constructed come from this beautiful planet we call Earth – and will return to it once we’re dead. We’ll all return to the land, in some way or another – and we all were made from the land.
The land carries its own memory, and a rich, earthy, planetary wisdom. The memory and wisdom of the ages. And we’re made up of it. At some very deep level, each one of us participates in that wisdom borne by the land. Because we’re made of the land. Every cell in our body. There’s not a bit of us that isn’t created and then forged from the various places we’ve lived in. And so we carry within us all those ways of knowing, of being, of understanding, of imagining the world – just as the land carries them. We each carry inside us the long, age-old memory of the lands we’ve lived in, which have made us. Something in me carries the long, metamorphic memory of Llewissian gneiss, the cackling wisdom of Crow, the fire-filled dance of Fox in a moonlit wood.
And what treasures we can uncover, if we remember it. If we learn how to dig deep, how to stop paddling about in the shallows and penetrate beyond the superficial into those deeper, older, planetary – cosmological, even – layers of the psyche. If, to use a phrase I coined many years ago now, we choose to let ourselves fall into the land’s dreaming. And so learn how to truly participate in the land’s psyche. In the world psyche – the anima mundi, the world soul.
It seems to me that, whatever else we pursue on the path to our own unique calling in this world, this is something that every one of us has to learn. To find our way back to the understanding of how deeply we belong, how deeply we are enmeshed in the life of this beautiful, animate Earth. And so ultimately, to remember who we are.